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The grammar of art

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Nature reviews an exhibition based on a cognitive scientists’ study of dancers:

As with any scientific project, Kirsh began studying Random Dance by characterizing the different phenomena he saw “like a botanist”, he says. “I go out with six or seven high-definition video cameras, I put them around the studio floor and collect everything from the moment he introduces a dancer to the premiere weeks later.” He and a trained team of students then deciphered the different techniques for instruction and practice that they saw in the videos, in much the same way that primatologists characterize behaviour.

One phenomenon that caught Kirsh’s attention was ‘marking’, in which dancers in rehearsal elaborate only the basics of a dance movement. “It’s a lower-energy version; they won’t stretch as far; they won’t have the emotional force in it. It’s a way to avoid injury and because you can’t dance for five hours after two hours of exercises warming up,” Kirsh says.

But as he discovered when conducting a controlled experiment, there is more to it. He showed dancers a new routine, gave them time to learn the moves, and divided them into three groups to practise again. One group performed the full movements, a second marked them, and a third lay down and imagined themselves performing the dance. To Kirsh’s surprise, the dancers who marked the routine executed it most faithfully later. “Nobody predicted this,” he says. “This is the hint at a theory of practising, and now it’s open to study this much more carefully to understand how people focus on aspects of what they’re practising.” The experiment, he feels, is evidence of physical activity influencing thought.

On the basis of his work with Random Dance, Kirsh has published research papers on interaction design, McGregor’s creative process and a phenomenon that he calls distributed memory, in which dancers remember dozens of complicated movements through physical cues from other dancers. McGregor, too, has gained from their collaboration. When he instructs dancers and other young choreographers, he now uses terms that Kirsh devised, such as ‘sonifications’ — sounds that choreographers make to guide how a dancer shapes a move, such as “yah ooh ehh”. Kirsh notes, “Now that the term has been named, the phenomenon is clear.”

This reminded me of the studies by the pioneering Indian computer scientist R. Narasimhan on oral notations in Indian tradition: of the art of Kollam, and of tabla bols. I had heard a detailed exposition by him on the syntax of bols in a colloquium in the mid 1980s. The only surviving printed record seems to be in a booklet called Characterizing Literacy: A Study of Western and Indian Literacy Experiences by R. Narasimhan, published by Sage. His discussion of the usage of bols by players of the tabla seem to be equivalent to the notion of “sonification”, and predates it by a few decades.


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

October 15, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Someone is not amused

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The Spiegel reports:

It was meant to be a publicity stunt — a political prank aimed at voicing displeasure over vast US Internet surveillance and spying activities. But Oliver Bienkowski, the light artist who projected the words “United Stasi of America” onto the US Embassy late Sunday night now finds himself in hot water with the Berlin police after authorities opened an investigation.

The projection, which included an image of Internet activist and hacker icon Kim Schmitz, aka “Kim Dotcom,” took place at around 1 a.m. local time on Sunday night and lasted for a mere 30 seconds before police guarding the embassy asked him to move on. “Stasi” is a reference to the infamous East German Ministry for State Security, which managed a vast network of spies and informants in communist times — but which also persecuted the state’s political opponents.

Despite the slow pace of the investigation thus far, the artist has already hired a lawyer. And in a press release issued this week, the law firm made clear that it sees the case as having little merit. For one, the law firm D. Breymann Rechsanwälte says that a complaint has to have been made by the US Embassy for the case to be pursued. But the embassy has told Berlin daily Tagesspiegel that it does not intend to file such a complaint. For another, the supposed insult was not directed at a specific individual.

A dash of irony?

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

July 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Posted in art, politics

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The Hindu carries a film review by Sudhish Kamath:

Short stories work best as short films. There is a certain brevity and inherent pace that must not be tampered with.

Mr. Kamath is clearly not a film goer. He has forgotten, or not seen, Rashomon, Rear Window, The Silence of the Lambs, and many other fantastic full-length movies developed out of short stories. In fact, Alfred Hitchcock, that master film-maker, in a long interview given to Francois Truffaut, another master, claimed that one can only make short stories into feature films.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

July 7, 2013 at 6:47 am

Cloud installation

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Nimbus, 2010 Cloud in room Lambda print, 75x112 cm Probe#6, Suze May Sho, Arnhem, Berndnaut Smilde

Berndaut Smilde creates clouds inside galleries. His website says:

Berndnaut Smilde’s work often draws upon the physical presence of transitional spaces.

Places such as corridors, elevators, staircases and balconies interest Smilde as spaces that exist to be in between. This interest also branches out into the possibility of how a given space might be in between states of construction and deconstruction.
Using his day to day surrounds as points of conjecture, Smilde often works in response to site, creating special narratives whereby multiple layers of ideas and meaning are able to collide and awkwardly coexist.

Throughout this process Smilde often uses construction materials and imitation products such as photographic prints, artificial turf and polystyrene interior decoration, that make reference to the physical construct of those spaces he works with and that play on the boundary of where in between starts and ends.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

June 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Posted in art

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Oldest known cave paintings

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Nature reports on a cover story in the journal Science converning paintings in El Castillo caves in Cantabria in northern Spain:

The world's oldest art: El castillo, Spain

It’s no Mona Lisa, but a smudged red disk in northern Spain has been crowned the world’s earliest cave painting. Dated to more than 40,800 years ago, the shape was painted by some of the first modern humans to reach the Iberian Peninsula — or it may have been done by Neanderthals, residents of the Iberian peninsula for more than 200,000 years.

“There is a very good chance that this is Neanderthal,” says Alistair Pike, an archaeological scientist at the University of Bristol, UK, whose team dated dozens of paintings in 11 caves in northern Spain. But Lawrence Guy Straus, an expert on the caves who is based at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, calls that “a pretty wild speculation,” because it is based on a single date that could overlap with human occupation.

Until now, Chauvet Cave in central France, which is plastered with images of bears, lions and horses, held the title of the world’s oldest cave paintings. The oldest images there are dated to around 39,000 years old, but this is controversial as the assessment relies on radiocarbon dating of charcoal pigments, which are susceptible to contamination from other sources of carbon.

Pike’s team dated the calcite patinas that slowly form over cave art as mineral-rich water trickles over the paintings. The water contains trace levels of radioactive uranium, but not the water insoluble thorium into which the uranium steadily decays. The relative levels of uranium to thorium thus form a clock that records when the calcite layer was formed. The layers can take anywhere from several hundred to several thousand years to form, providing a minimum date for the art, Pike says.

His team collected 50 calcite scrapings from 11 caves, and came up with dates as old as 40,800 years, a minimum age for the disk in El Castillo cave1. That image, as well as other slightly younger disks from Castillo and a club-shaped image from Altamira cave, would have been painted at around the time the first modern humans, called the Aurignacian culture, reached the Iberian Peninsula. Younger paintings in the Spanish caves, including handprints and figurative drawings of animals, date to later human occupations.

Just as impressionism gave way to expressionism in nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, Pike’s team sees artistic trends that correlate with different periods. The first European painters favoured simple geometric shapes such as dots, disks and clubs, whereas their successors painted more graphically complicated handprints and figures.

BBC adds:

“In Cantabria, [in] El Castillo, we find hand stencils that are formed by blowing paint against the hands pressed against the wall of a cave,” explained Dr Alistair Pike from Bristol University, UK, and the lead author on a scholarly paper published in the journal Science.

“We find one of these to date older than 37,300 years on ‘The Panel of Hands’, and very nearby there is a red disc made by a very similar technique that dates to older than 40,800 years.

That is even more startling; the same caves used for 3,500 years! Unlikely that the same culture survived that long. A perspective article in Science stops short of such speculation, but can feed it:

A number of caves in Europe contain exquisite ancient art. Most of the art has been thought to be produced during the time of last glaciation by recently arrived modern humans, but dating of the art has been problematic because the art contains only minimal amounts of carbon for radiocarbon dating. Pike et al. (p. 1409; see the cover; see the Perspective by Hellstrom) have now obtained U-series dates on the calcite crusts that formed over the art from 11 caves in northwestern Spain. The ages from three caves are older than 35,000 years ago, and one dates to nearly 41,000 years ago. The earliest art used primarily red and was relatively formless; animal depictions appeared later. This dating is near the time of the arrival of modern humans and, because Neandertals were also present, complicates identifying the artists.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

June 15, 2012 at 5:04 am

Police interrogations

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Police interrogation in Ukraine: photo by Donald Weber

In Lensculture, the photographer, Donald Weber, says:

I was lucky in that on my very first trip to Ukraine during the Orange Revolution, to come across a fellow who became a friend and a fixer. Through him, I made contacts within the police services. It was actually over many years that the three of us (me, my “cultural guide”, and the police) established a relationship of trust to the point that they would consider allowing me to photograph the police interrogation process.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

June 5, 2012 at 5:49 am

The best wildlife photos from Europe

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

May 31, 2012 at 5:40 pm

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